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How Much of a Difference is there between Three Mile Island and the Fukushima Disaster?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Author: Gary Hilbert, Emergency Management Specialist, IEM

In March/April 1979, I was part of a field team working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Pennsylvania gathering information on the emergency response effort in the area around the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power station as a result of the accident that occurred there.

The elevation of the Fukushima Daishi incident to a level 5 (out of 7) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEM) International Nuclear Event Scale puts it on a par with TMI and the Windscale Fire that occurred in England in 1957.  There are only two incidents that have ranked higher in the IAEA scale:  Chernobyl and Kyshtym, both of which occurred in the Soviet Union and both of which involved release of large volumes of radioactive particulates.  As of March 18, this has not happened in Japan so the parallel ranking to TMI is probably justified.

I think there are also parallels between the TMI incident and what is currently happening at the Fukushima Daiichireactor complex in Japan. Specifically, I think it is valid to compare how officials communicate(ed) with the public about the nature of the emergency, what is being done, and most important, what the public needs to do to ensure their own safety is critical to ensuring a good outcome. (more…)